Hans Asperger

Image via Wikipedia

More often than not I overhear a conversation among young people in which someone says, “Did you see that weird guy over there?”

“Yeah, I took a picture of him. Lookin’ down at the floor all the time, not lookin’ you in the eye, talkin’ to himself.”

“What a creep!”

When I hear this, my first reaction is that my view that American young people are among the least accepting of difference and the most conformist of all groups in American society. They are fed an ideological-based view of multiculturalism in school and university that has little to do with the actual diversity of real, concrete human beings living in the real world. Despite being taught to be non judgmental (which is dead wrong, for judging certain acts to be wrong is part of our common humanity), they become judgment in a nasty way. They look down on those people who behave differently, those who do not understand social norms–people who may not look them in the eye when speaking, people who look at the ground, people who may talk to themselves from time to time. I would bet, being an Aspie myself, that many of these individuals have Asperger’s Syndrome (what the new edition of DSM, it is rumored, will refer to as “mild autism;” the photo on the right is of Hans Asperger). I will not claim to be “holier than thou” on how I have treated people–like every person, I have said hateful and hurtful things to people. Mea maxima culpa, first of all. But I do have some advice to those people, especially teenagers and traditional-age college students who seem to identify difference with evil, and some advice to those persons with Asperger’s Syndrome, since some of our behaviors do tend to “put people off.” I also note some of my own experiences with people in my past who failed to understand my “odd” behavior.

1. If you label someone a “creep” who behaves in a way you consider to be strange, remember that you do not know that individual personally. Suppose that person is an Aspie. He may be a good moral person and a kind person, but a person who has difficulty relating to people, especially strangers, in public. That is true of many Aspies individuals. And if you say, “He should have worked on his social skills,” my answer is, “How do you know he has not.” For some Aspies, it is difficult enough to go out in public, much less to train themselves to deal with social norms with strangers. Perhaps he has worked to improve his social skills with family members and friends, but has not gotten to the point that he can relate well to strangers. Perhaps, no matter how hard he tries, he will never pick up the proper social skills to relate to strangers. Does that make him a “creep”? One day you may have an accident that makes you behave differently or appear differently than so-called “normal people.” Imagine how you would want to be treated in that situation. Then apply that lesson to dealing with Aspies and other people who are “different.”

2. When I was in high school I pulled up to the drive through window at a fast food restaurant. When I drove up to the pay booth, the woman told me the price–I fumbled around to find the correct change and muttered to myself, “I guess I find the exact amount here somewhere.” The woman opened her mouth wide and looked at me as if I were insane. Besides being unprofessional to a customer, it was cruel, and it hurt deeply. Some Aspies talk to themselves because it helps to calm them and helps them to think through the issues and events of the day. Sometimes I will talk to myself because I am thinking of ideas for an academic paper or for a creative story or poem. Remember that just because a person talks to himself, this does not imply that he is talking about you or insulting you. I can understand why seeing someone talking to himself can make you nervous; it even makes me nervous! But I try my best not to judge the person’s character or sanity because I realize my own habits. And I have worked on it–I talk to myself less than in the past–but often I slip. I am sure this is the case with other Aspies.

3. Now some advice to people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Aspies have particular areas with which they are fascinated, and they love to talk about their eccentricities. This is something they should work on avoiding since this tends to bore people or make them nervous. But it is easy to slip. One of my fascinations is collecting skulls of various animals. One bit of advice if you share this fascination: Do not talk about that interest if you have met someone for the first time. I made that mistake and the woman thought I was a freak who was interested in bones for some nefarious reason. When I heard her reaction (second-hand) I was in tears. Later, I heard than when someone explained to her that I was an Aspie, she then understood and no longer felt threatened by me. But of course I am wary of her now. Perhaps if I had approached her differently, we could have been friends. Now that is not possible–and I admit I will not open the door, even though that may be unfair and unchristian. Aspies, take note–if you have an odd interest, find some other Aspie that shares that interest online or in person–then you can talk your heart out about it. For you who are not Aspies, try to understand that those of us who are Aspies have difficulty in not steering the conversationĀ  to our special interests. Kindly change the subject and avoid being rude.

4. Aspies, do not say the first thing on your mind to a friend without thinking about it first–you may, like me, have problems with being tactful. If you send a personal e-mail to a friend, re-read it several times. Aspies tend to be literal about relationships and oftentimes they lack tact. I have been in more than one situation in which I lacked tact in e-mails (without even realizing it), and then I was surprised at my friend’s defensive reaction. This is good advice for everyone, not just for Aspies. If you are a friend to someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, be patient and forgive–your friend will be loyal to a fault, but will sometimes say what he thinks without realizing that what he said hurt you. Point out why you are offended–then forgive–not seven times, as Jesus said, “but seventy times seven,” that is, without limit.

5. Although not all differences are good (a serial killer is “different” but is also evil in his difference), the fact that people have different personalities makes the world more interesting. Instead of calling the odd looking person who won’t look you in the eye and who talks about trains or physics or whatever his special interest is (or interests are), be friendly and talk to the individual. You may find a friend for life.

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